A surprise in Knysna Forest

Knysna, South Africa

It was a bit overcast in Swellendam this morning, not that there was much to see otherwise. After filling up my tank, it was time to hit the Garden Route. My destination: Knysna (pronounced nye-znah), a town perched between a lagoon and forests, about 2.5 hours east.

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The drive took me through Mossel Bay, George, Wilderness and Sedgefield. It couldn’t have been much simpler — and I’m continuing to learn new driving rules in South Africa (like a quick flash of the emergencies after passing as a “thank you”).

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It was sunny and warm in Knysna; my guest house, Amanzi Island Lodge, was located on Lesiure Isle, a peninsula accessible via bridge from the mainland. My standard room faced the lagoon and had sliders that opened out onto the deck. It felt like staying at a friend’s beach pad.

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I’d come to Knysna to hike — it has the largest natural forest in Southern Africa — and Helen, Amanzi’s owner, pointed me in the right direction. First, it was to a lookout that offered great views of the town, lagoon and famous Knysna Heads.

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From there, it was about a 20-minute drive to Kranschoek, a meandering 9-kilometer trail that teeters along the Indian Ocean and through the forest. With the sun out and fall colors starting to come in, it was pretty spectacular.

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The trail was quiet; coming into the thick forest, there was no noise, except for the waves crashing below. Then, suddenly, a high-pitched barking startled me. Unsure of what it was, I grabbed a big stick.

The noise continued and grew louder (warthog? wild wolves?). Glancing around, I spotted a family of baboons; three kids, mom and dad, none of whom seemed all that pleased to see me. They screeched and yelled. Mom took a couple of threatening steps toward me. I kept walking.

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Not interested in another near-death experience, it was encouraging that they didn’t pursue me. Back at the lodge, Helen told me about Mario’s, an Italian restaurant on the waterfront. An interesting take on the Caesar salad and a penne with gorgonzola, broccoli, olive oil and garlic hit the spot.

Getting into bed, light waves of the lagoon lapped the shore.

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